Drones – Cool or Creepy?

Anyone who has been following this blog for a while will have realized that I have a strong geeky side.

My first PDA was a Psion organizer which I bought in 1986.  And I owned a Magellan GPS in 1996 – that was when you put in your destination as coordinates and all it would tell you is “Its 2.3 miles in that direction”

So it was with great delight that on my birthday I unwrapped a DJI Phantom FC40 Quadcopter.

This awesome little machine has a lot going for it.  GPS positioning allows it to stop and hover if you take your fingers off of the controls, and if you lose connectivity it will fly back to where it started from and land itself.

It also has a small 720P camera that can record videos and even let the operator to see what the camera sees in real time on their phone or tablet via a wi-fi connection.

It’s huge fun seeing video of yourself peering up and views of nearby landmarks from an aerial viewpoint, but this camera seems to be the thing that causes most people trouble.

I have to admit I was a little surprised the first time I was waxing lyrical about my newest hobby only to have someone tell me they thought it was a creepy.  But several people have made similar comments and I think people are really concerned that people are going to start using these things as a new means of spying on them or peeping into their homes.

I think this surprised partly me because nothing was further from my mind.  I had visions of flying this over the local pond, capturing some high altitude shots of my house etc.

I have already heard many people asking for additional regulation to stop that sort of behavior, and other people talking about shooting drones out of the sky if they see them.

As a person with a strong belief in people’s right to privacy I’m left in a bit of a quandary.

One of the things that often happens in these types of situations is that new laws and regulations appear that don’t actually add to protection, but do make life difficult for people trying to have some honest fun or innovate in a new direction.

Let’s be clear here.  It is already illegal to peek into people’s bedrooms and it doesn’t matter whether it is done with a drone, a high powered telescope or a ladder.  

But I also see trouble looming.  What happens when someone loses control of a drone and it damages a person or property?  What about if a drone distracts a driver and causes a crash?

And what about the benefits of having drones?  They have already been used to find missing children and stranded hikers and to survey damage in dangerous areas.

All of the above have already happened.

Clearly this is a space that is going to evolve rapidly in the next few years and, for the moment, the technology is far outpacing the regulation.  And perhaps that is a good thing.  Let’s remember that many people’s impression of the early internet was that it was a place to watch porn.  Knee-jerk regulations at that time could have easily stifled the greatest engine of innovation ever created.

It seems to me that a little patience is needed to see where this goes and allow people to work the kinks out on their own before we start adding new laws to the books.

In the mean time…here’s a short video…no bedroom shots included.



Filed under Technology

7 responses to “Drones – Cool or Creepy?

  1. rainabba

    “But I also see trouble looming. What happens when someone loses control of a drone and it damages a person or property? What about if a drone distracts a driver and causes a crash?”

    I don’t follow your logic here. Replace the word “drone” (which is loaded and innaccurate as these aren’t self-directing or weaponized, they are Radio Controlled aircraft) with “person” or “baseball” or even just “rc airplane” and the statement becomes silly because those concerns have all been addressed by society for time-of-mind. As you say, peeping is illegal so the only real concern to be had here is that someone MIGHT be more prone to do it except that if they want their $1,200 aircraft back, which only flies perhaps 15 minutes anyway, they must fly it back to themselves which means identifying themselves.

    It all seems like irrational fear to me. Then again, I own and fly multiple rc aircraft and realize the responsibility and knowledge required to do more than get it a foot off the ground without destroying it. Yes, people will get hurt by them on occasion, but the same can be said with a much higher rate of incidence for “insert nearly anything else commonly found in a culture”.

    • I completely agree. But I also feel that we need to recognize that there are differences to other radio controlled aircraft. Unlike small planes these are now very easy to fly, don’t need large open areas, and are rapidly falling into the price range of children.

      When a vacation day at the beach is disturbed by the constant noise of quadcopters, or a national landmark is damaged by one of these (already happened) people are going to start taking note.

      • rainabba

        Have you shopped around much in the US? These ARE the “small planes kids play with”. Similarly, there are PLENTY of small planes that don’t need large fields, make lots of noise, etc that have long been low-cost. Despite having $1,000’s invested, my favorite quad is a $40 one from Frys that can do small flips, recharge off USB and is just powerful enough to use in reasonably calm conditions. My point was that many people are thinking like I see in this article and trying to single out “drones” when in reality, these aren’t really new OR different enough to be addressing this way.

        If we address basic social behavior such as, “control things so they don’t slam into people or property”, “be respectful about the noise you make”, “respect people’s privacy”, etc.. Then this discussion isn’t needed.

        I think the biggest failing in the US these days (and what is going to destroy us) is that people have stopped thinking in terms of personal responsibility and want to make rules and laws to address every single little “issue” that is raised. Laws exist to deal with the sweeping social terms such as assault, damage, theft, etc and occasionally something would otherwise not fall into these categories does need some attention. In this respect, remote control aircraft are no different than a frisbee or a rock for the most part and when you attach a camera, then the rules and laws established to address privacy are there.

        I just don’t see a “Drone” issue that deserves this attention; it’s all common sense.

  2. The problem with common sense is that it’s really not very common anymore.

    Don’t think this is an issue that is blooming? NC just presented new laws on this very subject http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/04/23/3805042_lawmakers-propose-law-regulating.html?rh=1

    • rainabba

      I tend to lean in the cynical direction myself, but if law is a tool, aren’t we doing them a disservice by overusing it rather than trying to bring them back to the basics and teach them how to get the get the same results without so much dependency on that tool (which will be used against us more and more as it becomes more commonplace)?

  3. Of course…it’s not just privacy that we have to worry about. There are idiots that will cause over regulation everywhere!

    • rainabba

      I was shaking my head about that already because to me, the real issue is how these people seem to be looking for a reason to battle. Admittedly, I have little more than public media to get impressions from, but it seems like a common theme amongst soccer (football) fans world-wide. Albania and Serbia thought? I have to admit severe ignorance here, but aren’t they at war every other year anyway? If so, mixing them up in a soccer match sounds like an event doomed from the start and that uav and flag were just an excuse.

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